30 January 2010

Undisputed: Spider-Man - Best and Worst Franchise of All Time

There's been a lot of Spider-Man related news lately, namely a bunch of really exciting casting rumours over Spider-Man 4, then the revelation that there would be no Spider-Man 4, then just a Marc Webb version. Fitting. Spider-Man has always been one of my all-time favourite comics, so with all this shit lately I thought it'd be nice to examine one of our simultaneously terrible and spectacular film franchises of all time. Let's journey in, true believers.

The Weird Kid from Pleasantville Becomes a National Icon

The first Spider-Man (2002) did almost everything right. It was innovative in its genre both critically (far before comic adaptations became stale) and commercially (STILL one of the all-time grossers). Both its degrees of success were mapped onto the entrie genre, further building on the foundation X-Men (2000) started which would shape the popular action film production of the next decade (and counting). It was also very well cast, with the aforementioned Weird Kid (who really played insecure Peter Parker much better than a wise-cracking Spider-Man, but that's besides the point), the little girl from Jumanji (1995) and one of the ugliest men in all of cinema, Denis Leary from Operation Dumbo Drop (1995). Err...make that Jesus Christ in a perfect role. I swear its ending was a total rip-off of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (S2;E22), but Sammy didn't develop the idea of Kirsten Dunst being a whore enough to distinguish dudes by kiss anyway. The story was incredibly faithful to its source material (besides swapping Mary Jane for Gwen Stacy, more on that later). Bravo, at an all time high, we're coming into Summer 2004 with huge expectations - what do we get?

Three Times the Arms, Four Times the Fun!

Spider-Man 2 (2004) was the unanimous best Comic Book Movie ever made until Batman Begins (2005), and even after that it was a good argument (still is). The single weak point for me in this film is Jim Franco's horrendous acting (a basic skill for his profession he seems to have waited until 2008 to develop). I might add here that the video game (specifically the GameCube version) is also one of the greatest ever, providing the open-ended foundation for every subsequent Spider-Man game (as well as other comic games like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction [2005] and completely unrelated games like Prototype [2009]). No future game was nearly as fun, though.

Back to the film, there is actually a tremendous amount of depth added to Doc Ock's character (which is relatively basic in the comics) and a good amount of shit going on without ever being overwhelming. Like any good sitcom, the premise works only as long as Pete and MJ have that continued sexual tension. Spider-Man 2 also works because so much bad shit happens to Pete constantly. Every possible bad thing happens, I mean, he loses his job in the first scene! It lets the viewer relate to and sympathize with the protagonist, a notion that the threequel completely missed. Speaking of...

Who'd Make a Good Venom? I dunno....Forman?

That about sums it up. Spider-Man 3 ended up sucking in so many other little ways though. Watching it again recently, it's easy to pick up on terrible coincidences, like Harry struck with incredibly convenient explosive amnesia and sand technicians (?) assuming that a 'bird' is in their spin machine (then assuming it will fly out instead of you know, glancing inside before resuming what is presumably at least a multi-thousand dollar experiment). All this stupidness aligns with the forcefully sympathetic Sandman (although well cast and played by Tommy Church) and of course, fucking Forman. Fucking, fucking Forman. When I heard that casting I instantly thought 'retarded!' I came around to the belief that Sam desired a similar counter to Tobey for a nice dose of dualism and going into the theaters I was actually pretty into it. As it turns out, seeing a jacked up, monstrous Venom speaking in whiney Forman voice really takes out a lot of the punch.

There were some indications that Brock was a little sick that the film touches upon which is sweet. I love when they reveal that his "relationship" with Gwen is basically stalking; his warped worldview becomes apparent. Speaking of Gwen, this film proves Sam's full-circle journey away from the authenticity of the first film. Spider-Man (2002) demonstrated almost exactly the entire Gwen Stacy story (replace MJ with Gwen and kill her, and that's about right). Gwen is supposed to be Pete's first love, the death of whom (which Pete never knew if he, himself caused) really tears him up. Again, Spider-Man is one of the most shod-on heroes in Comic Books, which works because the guy stays relatively cheery and keeps on fighting again for justice. Even in recent New Avengers comics when he's basically a fugitive with everyone on earth (including J. Jonah) knowing his secret identity, he remains a wise-cracking asshole, something the films sorely lacked in his characterization. Like I said before, the second installment went above and beyond redefining the kind of villain Doc Ock could be, so the potential was there. Ultimately, Spider-Man 3 just kicked the pooch on a lot of these opportunities. At least they didn't decide to defeat Sandman the same way Spider-Man did during their first encounter. Two words: Vacuum Cleaner, baby.

And the butler becomes the most important character in Harry's character arc? What the flying fuck? Even if Pete didn't kill his pop, he was still a dick to Harry and horribly scarred his face, why the fuck would Harry go and help and act as if everything was fine when he showed up? How the fuck did Pete have the balls to ask him anyway? This shit will always piss me off. I hate that fucking movie. Where's Spider-Man 2?!

Well, let's Just Start Over then.

2011 should be pretty interesting then. Among many other Marvel films with great potential (basically, Thor), we've got this supposed reboot by (500) Days of Summer (2009) director, Marc Webb. I trust his ability to nail the romance in a rejuvenated Pete/MJ relationship, but as for the action? Who knows. Honestly, Spider-Man's good villains are spent. They were spent after Goblin and Ock. They've got the Lizard and then...Rhino? Shocker? Boomarang? I keep hearing pleas for Carnage, but come on, we need a Sylvester Stallone-directed Spider-Man before we see that kind of bloodshed. Maybe a David R. Ellis version. I was actually starting to get pumped for a Adrian "Malkovich" Toomes vulture (imagine lots of great old-man sky battles), but we'll just have to see.

'Nuff said.

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